How the Digital Society Could Solve Africa’s Energy Challenges

Posted on: March 3, 2017 by Francis Meston

While the digital revolution continues to change the way the western world operates, it could have an even more profound effect on the continent of Africa.

Funmi Iyanda, a noted Nigerian broadcaster and journalist who has been honoured by the World Economic Forum and was recently named as one of Forbes 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa, noted that the region is a "sleeping giant". Iyanda went on to say that with all its potential and everything it can offer, Africa should be the hub of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, to achieve this, the continent needs a cultural revolution as much as a digital one.

Currently, Africa’s potential is far from fulfilled: only 40% of Africans have a reliable energy supply, and just 20% of people on the continent have internet access. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Sub-Saharan Africa has 13 % of the world’s population, but only 4% of global energy demand and 48% of the share of the global population without access to electricity. 

Energy access is a significant stumbling block, and addressing the gap between electricity demand, the production capacities, and the network performance will be a vital factor in the region’s success. At the same time, energy resources are scarce, meaning that usage must be optimized and delivered to all regions at affordable costs.

A push toward sustainable and secure energy production is also crucial, with investment in renewable sources such as solar, hydro and biomass, a priority.

There is tremendous potential for untapped growth: full electrification of the continent would allow incredible growth acceleration – up to 15% per year over the next 15 years against an average of 5% - 6% currently. And even though there is still much work to do, new electrification programmes are starting to address the issue. At the same time, it is estimated by the IEA, that by 2040, 950 million Africans – or 50% of the population – should will have be connectedaccess to electricity out of to 2 billion people.

Satisfying Increasing Demands 

According to McKinsey, Sub-Saharan Africa should consume nearly 1,600 terawatt hours by 2040, four times what was used in 2010. Despite large national programs, electrification levels should only reach 70% - 80% by 2040 given the challenges associated with getting the power to where it needs to go. Although technology usage is increasing demand for energy (10% of the worldwide electricity consumption), it could also be the answer: every 1 kWh spent on ICT could save 10 kWh in the economy. With IT solutions such as predictive maintenance, energy production costs can be cut by up to a third, with output increased by around 30% to 40% - a huge difference when supplies are so scarce. By offering more advanced control and maintenance systems, digital technologies could reduce overall costs by 20%.

Answering this demand, the energy market is transforming itself in several ways. Firstly, it is moving from a centralized model to a decentralized one, with local production of renewable energy. For reducing costs, increasing energy independence and combating climate change, renewable sources are an obvious choice. Even if they still only count for 2% of the current production, it is estimated that almost half of the growth in electricity generation up to 2040 will come from renewables.

There are still challenges though, namely in the intermittent nature of energy production – an issue for renewable sources – as well as the individual demands of consumers: with users keen to modulate their electricity consumption per their specific needs.

Digital Solutions

To reconcile these constraints and manage this complexity, digital technology and the resulting data insights, play a vital role. In this respect, Africa is at an advantage in that it does not have large infrastructures. It can therefore make an immediate technological leap, moving directly to smart energy management systems. Moreover, the digitization of electricity will enable Africa to optimize the economic equation – moving faster and more efficiently towards optimized production, distribution and consumption models.

Digitization also helps to manage the geographical challenge of having such a dispersed population. Using microgrids would allow people to be closer to the centres of production and consumption, while leveraging the availability of local renewable energies. Microgrids make it possible to set up a small-scale network, where the production areas are close to those of consumption, thus optimizing distribution. Importantly, microgrids can coexist with existing networks, and become connected to share resource.

Finally, the data makes it possible to better manage and secure the production, transport, distribution and consumption of this scarce resource. Field fraud or cyber-attacks can pose a threat to the effectiveness or sustainability of these infrastructures.

The continent's energy transition will therefore rely on intelligent network solutions. Data will allow for better relationships with customers, tighter control over energy networks, and better optimization of distribution. Indeed, these grids enable true energy transparency for faster reactivity: the customer has detailed real-time insights of their energy consumption for better usage, which also helps companies to prevent strong load peaks. By monitoring usage, suppliers can become more energy efficient.

Ultimately, universal access to water and electricity is based on our capacity to preserve and optimize the use of scarce resources, to exploit the full potential of non-polluting renewable resources and respond flexibly to a growing demand for resources. Smart technologies are no longer an option but a necessity. We will rely on IT to overcome economic, social and environmental challenges. This is particularly true in the utility sector.

Digitalization will help Africa to optimize the management of scarce resources, while shrinking its environmental footprint and climate change effects, and also enhance the social benefits of universal access to energy.

Last week Mour Seck, CEO of Atos Senegal, attended IT Forum in Dakar. The event discussed the theme "Senegal and Africa facing the challenges of digital transformation and energy transition." At the event Atos announced its partnership with CIO mag where it will sponsor seven events in sub-Saharan Africa over the coming year. For more information:



About Franck Chevalley

With a graduate degree from Paris Business School and a postgraduate degree in software engineering, Franck joined CORYS, a company that specialized in the supply of training simulators for the energy and transport sectors. Here, he successfully managed international sales and marketing, then finance and administration, becoming CEO in 2001. In 2007, he joined another entity of GDF SUEZ (then a majority shareholder of CORYS), as CEO of Gaz Electricité de Grenoble, a regional utilities company comprising of generation, grid and retail activity for electricity and gas, where he developed smart grid projects, such as Greenlys. Franck joined Atos Worldgrid in 2012, to develop the “smart utilities” global business line, and became CEO of Atos Worldgrid France in 2013. Since June 2016, he has also been responsible for global activities with EDF as the Global Client Executive for EDF.

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About Francis Meston

Head of Middle-East, Africa & Turkey, Atos
Francis Meston joined Atos as Head of Consulting & Systems Integration from the E.D.S French subsidiary where he has been appointed Chief Executive Officer since January 2002. In 1996, he joined AT Kearney as Vice-President in charge of Europe Middle East & Africa business transformation and strategy practices as well as MIA Global practice. He was previously Vice-President of Capgemini Consulting where he led the French operations, the Europe Middle East & Africa Telecommunication practice and the Europe Middle East & Africa business reengineering practice. Francis Meston is a graduate of École Centrale Marseille and holds a MBA in Finance from Purdue (Indiana). Francis Meston is “maître de conférences” at HEC Business School. In July 2015 he has been appointed Head of Middle East & Africa.